What Was Said About DCUO’s Content Updates Prior To Launch
“And you get a lot more content than you do with a standard game where you might get DLC once or twice a year. You’re going to be getting things every single month, and major content updates.” (SOE President John Smedley in an interview with Eurogamer.)
“Sony Online Entertainment will update the game every month with new episodes featuring iconic DC Comics characters. New instances and major in-game events are scheduled to be added to the game every three months.” (From an SOE press release that was circulated to gaming news sites.)
What Was Said About DCUO’s Updates Two Months Post-Launch
“I think overall it’s interesting because there’s very few MMOs, in fact, I don’t know of any, that released content updates that fast after they launched, and the reason I say that is because it’s a very technically and creatively challenging thing to release true monthly content, right, not just fixes or tweaks, or every two months something else, right, and on a roughly monthly basis we’ve done it once, we’re doing it again here. Like I said, roughly we tried to hit with, in the Valentine’s Day case, it was part of the plan, that we thought, hey, we would hit, we would have it there, and it didn’t happen because of how complex these things are.” – Chris Cao, DCUO’s Game Director on MMORPG.com
It took less than two months from near launch’s “oh, more content is coming every month absolutely” to “monthly content is hard and we’re doing the best we can”. The whole “golly gee, us professional game developers didn’t know how hard professional MMO development is” ends up as an incredibly weak excuse – if you promise monthly content, monthly content is what you need to deliver, or you need to apologise.
“We’re doing it faster than others” doesn’t stack up either: 1) it still doesn’t meet your launch promises of content delivery and 2) it’s an arguable position to take, given that (as one example) City of Heroes released Issue 1 two months post-launch and it contained a lot more post-launch content than DCUO has yet seen. On top of that, it is just embarrassing to release a Valentine’s Day event after Valentine’s Day and then a St Patrick’s Day event in the wrong month.
A key concern that was levelled at DCUO before and at launch was that it lacked enough content. Even boosters of the game would say things like “[a] very solid groundwork has been laid, now they just need to come through on their promises” regarding content. That promise has already been dropped. And if you re-check above, major in-game events are scheduled every three months, which would be… this month.
Don’t hold your breath.
Reportedly the PS3 servers are doing better than the PC servers population-wise, but player reaction to further delays isn’t too positive. It’s also poor timing given that the 3-month special subscription offer is coming to its end for a lot of players. SOE has publicly stated that the
March update Update 2 is coming out next week, but I’m expecting issues with new and existing bugs to continue as these patches don’t see any player testing before going live.
A Study In Churlishness
Prior to commenting on this, I’d seen the news that SOE had let go 205 staff and shuttered 3 studios in an effort to focus on their existing Everquest and Planetside franchises (and I’m sure they also meant to say DCUO in there somewhere). Back in 2010 when SOE laid off 35 full-time employees, they indicated that was about 4% of their workforce – a quick reverse calculation of that is 875 employees for SOE in total, while SOE’s LinkedIn shows 749 employee accounts as of today. A cut of that size reduces SOE’s employee numbers by something like 20% – 25%, which is a very big hit.
Part of me thought it is a touch unfair to criticise an SOE title while people related to SOE are getting pink-slipped, but then I also think that the criticism is aimed more at SOE on the whole and not just the individuals who may or may not be looking for work. DCUO’s problems arise from a number of poor management and design decisions, compounded by a complete inability to manage player expectations. That was true on March 30 and it is still true today, so I think it should be said. (Also, if you held off criticising a video game company who was retrenching workers, you’d be left with a short list of available targets.)
In a post-restructuring world, all bets SOE has made with players around their games are off. DCUO’s sales have been weak, full voiceovers for content is expensive and slow (particularly for the talent list so highly paraded by SOE), and SOE is consolidating heavily to focus on extending its own franchises. I’m not expecting DCUO to suddenly be able to ramp up the content production (they can’t do it now with SOE’s largest Live team) and in the competitive MMO launch year of 2011 SOE is going to struggle to bring players back.
Free-to-play is one option, but the PS3 player arrangements might make that awkward. Microtransactions are another step I expect to see on the way, along with lots of complaints that now players have to pay for the limited content they used to get for free. As things stand, it is going to be hard for DCUO to recover from this point without some dramatic changes.